Senate Republicans confident they’ll win fight on witnesses

Senate Republican leaders feel confident they will have the votes to block the Democrats’ attempt to subpoena additional witnesses and documents in President Trump’s impeachment trial, which could allow the proceeding to wrap up by the end of next week.

While the House impeachment managers have one more day to lay out their case against the president, GOP leaders don’t think there are four Republican votes to subpoena additional evidence to extend the trial, according to multiple Senate GOP sources.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) at most can win three Republican votes to subpoena White House witnesses such as former National Security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and likely will not even get that.

“If I had to bet, it doesn’t get 50,” said one GOP senator, who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Fifty votes would mean three GOP defections, one fewer than Democrats need to win.

The GOP senator said there’s little reason for Republicans to join Democrats in their push for witnesses, since it would be granting a significant victory to Schumer and a big defeat to both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

It could also allow McConnell to call GOP witnesses such as Hunter Biden, the son of the former vice president. McConnell has previously threatened to do so.

“There’s a feeling as we hear more about this of, ‘Where will it end if we go down the rabbit hole of more witnesses? How long will it go on if we enter into that Never-Never land?’” said the Republican senator,

So far only two Republicans have said they will likely vote to subpoena witnesses: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Mitt Romney (Utah).

A third moderate swing vote, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), has played her cards close to the vest, giving little indication of which way she’s leaning.

Republican senators and aides say they have a hard time imagining who the fourth Republican to vote for witnesses would be if Murkowski supports a motion for witnesses.

None of the potential candidates, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), have shown much appetite to speak out against the president.

Whoever votes to subpoena Trump’s senior advisers would likely come under withering criticism from the president.

And an acquittal for Trump would still appear certain, since 67 votes would be needed to remove Trump from office.

As a result, a vote for witnesses would give more time for House Democratic prosecutors to make their case, but for little gain to individual Republicans. GOP lawmakers privately say it would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face.

A second Republican senator who requested anonymity to comment on colleagues’ deliberations predicted as many as three Republicans could vote to subpoena witnesses and documents, referring to Collins, Romney and Murkowski, but asserted it’s highly unlike a fourth Republican would do so.

“I don’t see it,” said the lawmaker.

Republican leaders are warning their colleagues that subpoenas of key witnesses and documents is likely to result in a court fight that could stretch the trial for months longer.

“Some of the proposed new witnesses include executive-branch officials whose communications with the president and with other executive-branch officials lie at the very core of the President’s constitutional privilege,” McConnell warned Tuesday.

“Pursuing those witnesses could indefinitely delay the Senate trial and draw our body into a protracted and complex legal fight over presidential privilege,” he added.

Rank-and-file members are starting to echo that argument.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said if four Republicans vote with Democrats to subpoena witnesses and documents it could prolong the trial for “weeks and months.”

“The president does need to defend separation of power and executive privilege,” he added. “It never should have gone to an impeachment inquiry and we shouldn’t be here so I sure don’t want to elongate this process.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said parts of Bolton’s and Mulvaney’s testimony will be subject to executive privilege and have to be litigated in the courts, potentially extending the trial until the summer.

“That will take a couple of months to go through the process,” he said, suggesting the House managers want the trial to extend into the summer.

He said the managers want to “drag this trial out as long as possible. That’s really not our responsibility.”

That argument seems to be resonating with Murkowski, who expressed frustration Thursday that the House had not gone to the courts to get the evidence it wanted.

“The House made a decision that they didn’t want to slow things down by having to go through the courts. And yet now they’re basically saying you guys gotta go through the courts. We didn’t, but we need you to,” she said Thursday.

Beyond that, Republican moderates are starting to grumble about Democratic tactics more generally.

Two possible swing votes, Murkowski and Collins, said they were “offended” and “stunned,” respectively, by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s (D-N.Y.) argument for subpoenaing Bolton in which he called a vote against consideration of more evidence “treacherous.”

Romney earlier this week suggested that Democrats were overplaying their hand by protesting so vehemently against the trial’s organizing resolution.

“I think the Democrats make a mistake when they cry outrage time and time again. If everything is an outrage, then nothing is an outrage,” he said.  

Tags Charles Schumer Cory Gardner Donald Trump Impeachment James Lankford Jerrold Nadler Jerry Moran John Bolton Lamar Alexander Lisa Murkowski Martha McSally Mick Mulvaney Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Rob Portman Ron Johnson Susan Collins
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